President Donald Ramotar has rushed to the defence of his Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh following the decision by the Speaker of the National Assembly to send the Finance Minister to the Privileges Committee over his decision to spend over $4 Billion from the consolidated fund that was not approved by the National Assembly.
Speaking at a Saturday morning press briefing at his Main Street residence, President Ramotar said the Finance Minister was acting with the full support of the cabinet when he made the decision spend the money that was not approved by the Assembly.
“Ashni Singh was not acting on his own, this was a decision of the cabinet of which I chaired”, Mr. Ramotar said. According to the President, he was surprised by the Speaker’s decision since it was the same Speaker that overlooked a similar move by the same Finance Minister following the budget cuts in 2012 and 2013.
But the situation was different in those years after the High Court ruled that the budget estimates could not be cut but rather approved or disapproved. In 2014, the Opposition parties followed that same ruling and disapproved a number of sections of the budget.
President Ramotar said the Speaker may not have been acting professionally since he is still to pronounce on move’s by the PPP to get two members of the AFC before the same Privileges Committee.
Mr. Ramotar said the money restored by the Finance Minister covers several projects including the Amerindian Development Project and the School’s Assistance Project and the University of Guyana Student Loan facility.
The Opposition had advised the Finance Minister to remove those projects from under the heading he had placed them for the National Budget and return with them to the House for approval. Dr. Singh has not moved in that direction.
Earlier this week, House Speaker Raphael Trotman announced his decision to send the Finance Minister to the Privileges Committee.
The Speaker in his ruling said having regard to all the facts and circumstances, “it is my considered opinion that the issue of spending by the Hon. Minister of Finance does raise sufficiently serious questions of privilege such that the Committee of Privileges should inquire into”.
The Government is not happy about the decision and has already indicated that it is looking at a number of options to block the move. Among them, is a possible move to the high court over the speaker’s decision.
In a statement on Thursday evening, Attorney General Anil Nandall said “while I am bound to be guided by the Speaker’s ruling, I do not consider myself restrained from expressing a view on the ruling, even a critical and outspoken one. The issue raised in this Motion is purely a legal one. It concerns the interpretation of several provisions of the Constitution, including Articles 217 and 218. Article 217 essentially provides when, and in what circumstances, monies can be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund.”